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Why the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine comes with distribution challenges

Missouri and Illinois officials said there are few places currently equipped to store the COVID-19 vaccine due to its unique requirements

ST. LOUIS — When Pfizer announced this week that its coronavirus vaccine was 90% effective in trials, the news provided a shot of hope during a long pandemic.

But the groundbreaking vaccine will come with storage and transportation challenges because of its novelty.

Speaking with Missouri legislators, the state Department of Health and Senior Services Director Dr. Randall Williams outlined some of the details of this messenger RNA vaccine, which uses a different technique than some inactive virus vaccines patients have traditionally experienced. The new technology requires ultra-cold storage around -95 degrees Fahrenheit.

"Because it does have to be kept in ultra-cold storage, it'll be at research sites and hospital sites and our metropolitan areas mostly," Williams told 5 On Your Side Monday.

During an interview with NBC Nightly News Tuesday, the nation's most prominent infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, acknowledged that may cause concerns for some areas of the country.

"We anticipate, although there are logistic challenges, that it will be done successfully," Dr. Fauci said.

READ ALSO: What is the timeline for a COVID-19 vaccine?

Williams said Missouri does not have a lot of facilities currently capable of housing the vaccine, a sentiment echoed by Illinois Governor JB Pritzker during his Tuesday afternoon update.

"I don't know how many facilities you're aware of that can hold 100 degrees below 0," Pritzker said, answering his own question with "not many."

But the governor said the state would seek federal help in equipping themselves, ending on a positive note.

"We don't manufacture that kind of equipment. The state of Illinois doesn't. And I'm not sure there's enough of that equipment for us. But I only say that to say... we're going to build the capability to deliver that vaccine to the people of Illinois," Pritzker said.

The vaccine still needs to pass several other steps before it is administered outside of volunteer trials.

Williams said if the vaccine passes FDA scrutiny, the first vaccines would be administered to priority demographics, including healthcare workers, people over the age of 65 and people with co-morbidities.

Fauci expects that vaccines wouldn't be released to the public-at-large until April or May 2021.

Contact reporter Sara Machi on Facebook and Twitter.

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